ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, N.J. -- EMS, fire and law enforcement agencies from around the state conducted a full-scale mass casualty drill Nov. 16 in conjunction with SeaStreak Ferry to test the landmark Port Security EMS Planning Initiative.

In the first test of the new EMS plan, New Jersey first responders were faced with an "incident" aboard a commuter ferry in the Atlantic Highlands Municipal Harbor that called for a fire, HAZMAT and EMS response.

"We hope we never face an event of this magnitude, but we must prepare for the potential," said Atlantic Highlands First Aid captain Jerry Pandolfo. "The drill was designed to be a true learning experience for all of the agencies involved."

The drill was the first real-life test of the Port Security EMS Planning Initiative, a comprehensive flexible guideline created by planners from the New Jersey EMS Task Force for EMS agencies to utilize when responding to large scale incidents involving waterways, water crossings and port facilities on the New Jersey side of the New York Harbor. The Atlantic Highlands Ferry Terminal is among the 27 sites determined most vulnerable by the NJ Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness.

The plan has been called a "model for regional collaboration" by The State of New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and developed in cooperation with all relevant agencies from the local level to the federal level.

The drill took six months to plan and was spearheaded by AHFAS vice president Shannon Martiak, who, in working with a variety of organizations put together an event to test all aspects of a response to a ferry incident.

"We developed this drill because when we looked at the ferry system as a potential target and discovered that we were not really prepared to respond and treat the victims of a large scale maritime incident," said Martiak. "Various agencies have brought their knowledge, experience, and resources to Atlantic Highlands and collectively we thought the incident through and responded accordingly. We can only move forward from here."

"Victims" were culled from local civic and school groups. Some were decontaminated by members of the Monmouth County HAZMAT team, and then triaged, treated and transported. MONOC and New Jersey State Police medivac helicopters were on hand, as were many ambulance and fire apparatus.

"A very important part of this exercise is to point out our vulnerabilities," NJ EMS Task Force planner Henry Cortacans told attendees after the drill.

Among the agencies involved were the Atlantic Highlands First Aid, Fire Department, Fire Police, Police Department, Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary and Office of Emergency Management, along with the American Red Cross, the New Jersey EMS Task Force, the New Jersey State Police, the New Jersey First Aid Council, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Air Marshal Service, U.S. Navy Intelligence, Monmouth County OEM, Monmouth County Sheriff, Eatontown Fire Police, Rumson Fire Police, Monmouth County HAZMAT, Highlands First Aid, Middletown Special Services, Middletown Fire Department Air Unit, Middletown First Aid, Fire Police and Office of Emergency Management, Leonardo First Aid, Matawan First Aid, Keansburg First Aid, Keyport First Aid, Fair Haven First Aid and Fire Police, MONOC, Riverview Medical Center, Rumson Fire Police and Community Fire Company.

The Atlantic Highlands First Aid squad is an all-volunteer organization that provides 24-hour EMS service free to area residents. The squad operates on donations from the borough and the community. For information about the AHFAS call 732/291-8118 or log ontowww.ahfirstaid.org.

"This has been an incredibly valuable experience for all of us," Pandolfo said. "We could not have done this without the support of all of the agencies involved. Everyone who participated will be able to take what we learned in this drill and see where we can improve."

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